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Photo of the Week: Jan. 13

Mrs. Joe Kelly presides at the Watha Home Demonstration Club meeting. The picture, set in rural Pender County, was probably taken between 1925 and 1930.

Mrs. Joe Kelly presides at the Watha Home Demonstration Club meeting. The picture, set in rural Pender County, was probably taken between 1925 and 1930.

As North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s family and consumer sciences’ volunteer organization, the Extension and Community Association has helped the state’s families emerge from a struggling rural economy to one that is more diverse and prosperous, both in rural and urban areas.

ECA got its start in 1913, when women who had been working alongside their daughters in the state’s Tomato Clubs expressed their wishes for Extension to provide them with information to make home life easier. They were especially interested in better biscuit and bread making, finding income-generating opportunities for their families and spend time with others in their isolated rural communities.

As they learned, these women shared their knowledge with others in the community, and they began a tradition of service in important local needs. In World War I, they canned nearly 9 million jars of food to feed military troops, and as the great influenza epidemic of 1918 swept the state and nation, members organized into nursing squads to care for the sick and set up 75 kitches to feed people.

During the 1920s, they set up a loan fund to help rural girls get a college education and they opened weekly county curb markets, the forerunners of today’s local farmers’ markets. Curb market sales proved during the Great Depression to be a lifeline for many homemakers and their families.

During the Depression, these volunteers also set up community chests and collected food, clothes and other items to give to needy and sick families. They prepared and served daily hot lunches in hundreds of schools in more than half of North Carolina’s counties. And, concerned about low literacy rates, they helped set up community libraries and bookmobiles and supplied school libraries with books.

Then during World War II, Home Demonstration Clubs, as they were known then, collected scrap metal for ammunition and weapon production, and they grew victory gardens for food. With other women’s organization, they sold war bonds to raise $4 million to renovate and launch the hospital ship the Larkspur in 1944. It was during this era that they also campaigned for a national school lunch program, and once they succeeded, they provided school cafeterias with cooking equipment.

The 1950s brought high visible community activities, many of them focused on health. They went door-to-door to promote tuberculosis screening, encourage women to get annual physical exams and tell people about cancer detection. Many Extension homemakers were also involved in polio vaccine and blood mobile drives. And homemakers from Columbus County spearheaded state legislation that led to the painted white lines on the edge of North Carolina roads.

Previously racially segragated clubs were integrated in the 1960s. And during that decade, Extension homemakers supported the implementation of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Program for Food Stamp recipients and other low-income families.

As younger women were choosing to work outside the home, enrollment in homemaker clubs declined. But members continued in the 1970s to make their communities and counties better. Getting special attention were current social issues such as air pollution, drug abuse and recycling.

In the 1980s, double-digit inflation and high interest rates spurred efforts to help people manage their financial resources, with Etension homemakers going directly to shopping centers to educate consumers on spending and smart buying. And they delivered programs related to saving on home energy and water, organized recycling drives and initiated some of the state’s first recycling centers.

In the 1990s, a time when the population was aging, Extension and Community Association (ECA)  members, as they were now called, became involved in eldercare programs. They also emphasized automobile restraint systems for children, family resource management and decision making, nutrition and emergency preparedness.

At the dawn of the current century, as the state’s families deal with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer, ECA members educated the public on improving health. They used myriad venues, including houses of faith, afterschool programs and shopping centers. And as the United States became enmeshed in two wars, they reached out to military troops and their families by sharing manufacturers’ coupons, truckloads of baked goods and care packages.

The information presented here comes in large part from a historical account by Durham County FCS agent Deborah B. McGiffin. As she sums up, “The Extension and Community Association, both past and present, enabled the Cooperative Extension Service to carry out its mission of empowering people, providing solutions throughout the 20th century into the 21st.

“Through the leadership skills they gained in ECA, many members became community advocates and leaders, mayors and county commissioners,” she continues. “Cooperative Extension … must pay tribute to the strong women who have backed Extension from the beginning; to the strong women who guided the Extension mission by bringing the needs of their communities to the Extension Service; to the strong women who were and still are Extension advocates, volunteers and advisors; and to the strong women who helped create the rich Extension heritage that will prolong Extension’s future in North Carolina: the Extension and Community Association.”